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15 December, 2007

DVD Review: Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2

Title: Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2

Year of Release—Film: Various

Year of Release—DVD: 2007

DVD Label: Universal Studios Home Entertainment / Best Buy® Exclusive



THE MOVIE(s)

It’s no secret that I love the cheesy, B-Grade sci-fi horrors of the 1950’s. In fact, next to the classic Universal Monsters of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, there’s no type of genre film I enjoy more. This is the second collection of Sci-Fi gems Universal and Best Buy® have collaborated on, and I hope they keep them coming!
When I reviewed the first Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection last year, I said that the only faults I had with the set were the lack of special features, and the failure to include my favorite Giant Bug movie, THE DEADLY MANTIS. I am overjoyed to say that at least one of those faults has been corrected.

DR. CYCLOPS—(1940)

Though it seems an odd title for inclusion in this set, as it was originally produced by Paramount, and released in 1940, DR. CYCLOPS is certainly an entertaining film that has long deserved proper respect, and it definitely gets it here.
While the Special Effects are good, especially considering the age of the film, the story is a bit of a weak point. The characters are poorly drawn and badly acted, offering the viewer scant reason to care about their eventual fates. And though the plot would become overused in the following decade, here it was still sufficiently fresh that it helps, rather than hinders the film. It is an interesting concept, though it does tend to wander from point to point, but as I mentioned it does what it was intended to do.
One thing that cannot be faulted is the spectacular color photography, on a par with the best of the era. It is captured perfectly in the DVD transfer, and puts my ratty old VHS to shame.
While not my favorite film in this collection, this is an enjoyable one, and a nice addition to my DVD library.

CULT OF THE COBRA—(1955)

This is one that I had not seen before this collection, and I must admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the movie. Though the premise is somewhat thin, and the film has often been derided, I found it to be very entertaining.
The cast is excellent, and would go on to comprise a who’s who of ‘60’s TV stars. Richard Long, Marshall Thompson, and David Janssen lead the way as GI’s who had witnessed a sacred ceremony while in Southwest Asia, calling down a curse upon their heads. Faith Domergue is the embodiment of that curse, (please someone, curse me with something like that!) as a priestess of the cult, a woman who can transform herself into a cobra… or a cobra that can change into a woman, whichever the case may be.
As I stated, the premise is thin… but no more so than most b-pictures of the ‘50’s. And like most of it’s peers, it holds up well enough when supported by competent acting and Francis Lyon’s workmanlike direction. The photography is Universal’s usually high quality effort, and what few special effects there are about average for the period.
On the whole, this is one of my favorite films in this set, and one that I’m glad to be able to check off my “Need” list.

THE LAND UNKNOWN—(1956)

This is another of those Universals that had escaped my efforts to add to the collection, and while I’m glad that I finally have it, I must admit that it fails to please as much as did the previous entry in this list. Though it’s not a bad film, the unusually feeble production values simply don’t serve the purpose here.
The cast, led by Jock Mahoney and Shawn Smith, does an adequate job, but they receive little in the way of support from anyone, including the screenwriters, special effects crew, or even the director, Virgil Vogel. The story is weak, the dialogue unrealistic, even by 1950’s standards, and the creature effects are even more so. In a production from AIP or Republic, you might accept a man in a rubber T-Rex suit… but not from Universal, which was producing state-of-the-art genre films in this period, films such as CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THIS ISLAND EARTH, and THE MONOLITH MONSTERS. Especially in comparison to the pioneering suit-mation being done at that time by Toho Studios in Japan, the cheapness of the Clifford Stine effects really stand out.
The plot of the film is a simple one, and would be revisited with varied success throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s. A helicopter carrying a team of researchers finds a hidden valley in Antarctica, with a tropical jungle environment and thriving prehistoric life. The team becomes stranded, and must survive their harsh surroundings. The same premise was followed much more satisfyingly in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH several years later, and quite frankly, I’d rather watch that again.
Still, it is a Universal that I had not seen prior to this, and I am happy to include it in my collection.

THE DEADLY MANTIS—(1957)

This is my all-time favorite Giant Bug movie, and one that I have waited for years to see released to DVD. Though it generally is held in lower regard than 1954’s THEM, and while even I would have to admit that, objectively speaking, THEM is a much better story, I’ve always loved this film.
Once again the plot is familiar to fans of the B-Pictures of the 1950’s. An earthquake in the South Atlantic causes a reaction on the other side of the world, and a giant prehistoric mantis is released from its icy tomb. Resurrected, it begins hunting for food, and heading south for warmer climes. Along the way it runs afoul of a paleontologist, his photographer, and an Air Force officer (played well by William Hopper, Alix Talton, and Craig Stevens…). The supporting cast is good, as is Nathan Juran’s direction, helped immeasurably by a superb job of special effects from Clifford Stine.
Ok, so it’s not a great movie, and it does go a little overboard on it’s use of stock footage, but it’s still one of my favorite movies, and it’s inclusion in this set is a no-brainer.

THE LEECH WOMAN—(1960)

This is, in my opinion of course, the weakest film in the set, and one that I would’ve been happy to see put off in favor of a more deserving film from the Universal vaults, such as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.
The story concerns an elderly woman who learns a method of restoring her youth and beauty. The drawback is that the process requires a steady supply of fresh blood, and the effects wear off quickly.
The plot is convoluted and obtuse, and the dialogue is stiff at best… but seldom delivers its best. The acting is almost uniformly bad, and in every way, this resembles much more the type and quality of film coming from AIP or Allied Artists, not the great Universal.
Still, it is well presented here, and if it does happen to be a film you enjoy, then you’ll be pleased with this release.


THE DISC

The three-disc set is well done, and beautifully packaged. As is standard with releases from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, the movies are subtitled, always a plus with me, and the transfers are absolutely perfect, especially the DR. CYCLOPS print.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

As usual with these Best Buy/Universal sets, this is the simplest section to write, as there are no special features, save for an occasional trailer.



IN CONCLUSION

Speaking as someone hopelessly addicted to the cheesy B-Movies of the 1950’s, I dream about sets such as this. The inclusion of my favorite of the Giant Bug movies certainly doesn’t hurt. While the exclusive nature of the Universal/Best Buy releases draws much criticism for making the discs hard to acquire and inflating the price, I fail to understand how that truly works a hardship on someone who really wants the sets. Best Buys are not scarce, and it’s always possible to purchase the discs on-line.
Still, it’s not a set that I would wait too long to pick up, unless you want to pay the exorbitant prices that the first set is commanding on eBay… upwards of $125.00 in some cases. There’s little doubt that, once supplies of this set dry up, it will begin to appreciate considerably. And if you love these movies as much as I, and have as little free cash as I, then you don’t want that to happen!










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